The news has come in waves this summer. Becky Hammon, the lone female assistant in the NBA, coached the Spurs to an NBA Summer League title.
A few weeks later, Nancy Lieberman was hired by the Sacramento Kings to be an assistant coach under George Karl.
Jen Welter was hired as an assistant linebackers coaching intern for the Arizona Cardinals.
Sarah Thomas is preparing for the NFL season as the first full-time female official in the league.
Beth Mowins was hired to do play-by-play on Raiders preseason games.
Add in the overwhelming success of the U.S. women’s national soccer team — with record-setting television ratings and coached by Jill Ellis, the first woman to take the Americans to a world title — the dominance of Serena Williams and UFC fighter Ronda Rousey and it’s been a landmark summer for women in sports.
“It feels like a big moment for women’s athletics, like the 1996 Olympics or the 1999 World Cup,” said Cal basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “It feels like momentum.”
That’s the way it feels, with a flurry of groundbreaking news. But is it?
“This many women breaking into exclusively male jobs is definitely a watershed moment,” said Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research and the lead researcher for Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In.” “But the question is, is it a one off or will it lead to a tipping point?”
“The glass ceiling may be cracked,” Cooper added. “But to shatter it you have to increase the percentages significantly.”
That’s not going to happen immediately. Though there are more female coaches than there were 40 years ago, the percentages have actually declined since the passage of Title IX. More and more men are coaching women’s sports while women have made rare inroads to coaching male athletes.
“In college, 75 percent of the jobs are going to men,” said Tara VanDerveer. “Hopefully the future will be more diverse in terms of gender.”
‘Timing is good’
VanDerveer, a Hall of Famer entering her 31st year at Stanford and one of the top basketball minds in the country, may not be impacted by the new opportunities. She jokes that the only person to contact her about coaching a men’s team is Chronicle columnist Scott Ostler. And she has a great gig at Stanford.
“But I think it would be fun,” she said. “The timing is good for Becky — she can develop into a head coach. That’s what an assistant job should be. Grooming to be a head coach.”
Sports leagues are copycat businesses. So when the gold standard team, the San Antonio Spurs, does something different and groundbreaking, it’s suddenly worth contemplating.
“The NBA has always been a leader,” VanDerveer said. “And these teams are not doing this for show. Or because of policy like Title IX. And that’s good. They just want to win.”
Amy Trask, who worked for a man whose motto was “Just Win Baby” for 30 years, thinks Al Davis — who made groundbreaking hires regularly — would applaud the new developments if he were still alive.
“Al would have just asked, ‘Can she help us win?’” Trask said. “That would be his analysis.”
Foot in the door
Trask said she isn’t surprised that the Cardinals were the NFL team to make the move of hiring a female assistant. Welter is working as a training camp intern, the same way many male coaches get their foot in the NFL door.
“I think the world of (Cardinals president) Michael Bidwill and (coach) Bruce Arians,” Trask said. “I interacted with Michael for years. He was never concerned with differentiated characteristics like gender or race. I think it’s a great environment for Jen.”
Football is different than basketball, in that there are few women who play the game competitively. But Trask points out that’s not an issue on the other side of the gender equation.
“There are plenty of men coaching that have never played,” she said. “Why should it be different?”
That’s becoming more and more true, in many sports, as statisticians and analytical experts with little playing background gain prominence in front offices and even on the fields.
“Running a team or a company has nothing to do with gender,” said Gottlieb.
Like VanDerveer, Gottlieb is happy in her current job. But she could imagine running an NBA team someday. Both she and VanDerveer have spent time with NBA coaches, picking their brains, learning, sharing ideas.
“Coaching is teaching,” VanDerveer said.
But changing perceptions is part of the challenge. Like seeing a woman make a serious run for president or the wide acceptance of same-sex marriage, things that seemed unlikely not long ago, are now the norm. Perhaps women coaching men will fall into that category in the future.
“It broadens the image of what a coach looks like and that’s a very positive development,” said Cooper. “It opens up more doors, brings in more people.”
And what’s newsworthy today, may not make headlines in the future.
“This is very exciting, but what would be truly significant is when it’s no longer newsworthy when someone qualified is hired to do a job,” Trask said.
Trask, VanDerveer and Gottlieb agree that eliminating 50 percent of the candidate pool right off the bat is a foolish management strategy. Just as alienating 50 percent of the population is a poor business model.
“I think the sporting world in general has been having a broader conversation about gender, about how to be more inclusive organizations,” Cooper said. “The conversation about how to treat women is happening, and these developments are another part of that.”
The Summer of 2015 is definitely a time of change. What the future holds remains to be seen.
“We can’t necessarily identify ahead of time when trends will happen,” Gottlieb said. “But when you watch it happening, it’s exciting and uplifting.”
Ann Killion is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @annkillion
Teams in the NFL and NBA have taken a step toward diversifying their coaching ranks with the hiring of women.
San Antonio Spurs assistant
Background: As a guard at Colorado State, set school scoring records while earning All-America status. Played 16 seasons in WNBA and ranks seventh in league history with 5,841 points.
Sacramento Kings assistant
Background: The basketball Hall of Famer, a three-time All-American at Old Dominion, played professionally in the short-lived Women’s ABA as well as in two men’s minor leagues. At age 39, she played in the WNBA. She has coached the Mavericks’ Development League affiliate and worked as an analyst for Thunder pre- and postgame shows.
Arizona Cardinals assistant coaching intern
Background: Was a linebacker for 14 seasons, primarily for the Women’s Football Alliance’s Dallas Diamonds, whom she helped win four championships. In February, she was hired to coach linebackers and special teams with the Texas Revolution, a men’s team in the Champions Indoor Football league.